Samsung’s S8 Android smartphone is a Galaxy of wonders.
WITH the smartphone having been around for some time now, innovation has more or less come to a standstill.
While manufacturers have been quick to release multiple models each year with many more tech buzzwords, the design has pretty much remained largely unchanged.
So it was a surprise when Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S8 and its bigger sibling, the S8+, which not only have large screens but are also largely different from their predecessors in terms of usage.
The South Korean electronics giant supersized the screen, giving the S8 a 5.8in display, a big bump from the S7’s 5.1in, while the S8+ received a 6.2in display, probably one of the largest for a smartphone.
It did so by eliminating most of the bezel – the front is more than 80% screen – and also getting rid of the physical Home button. So the S8 and S8+ are taller than their predecessors but have not gained much girth so you can still hold them comfortably in one hand.
The main difference between the two, other than in size, is the battery – the S8 has a 3,000mAh battery while the S8+ has a 3,500mAh.
So while this review is based on the S8+, it will apply equally to the S8 as well.
The longer screen is more than eye candy – it lets you see more and enjoy more when using the web browser and social media networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
However, not all apps, and especially games, support the larger screen size. You’ll see a black bar at the top and bottom of the screen when an app cannot fully take advantage of the screen.
Samsung has included a feature to force such apps to go full screen and the company has a warning that it’s a hit or miss affair, which it is. As with any radical change, it will take time for third-party developers to support it but we have no doubt it will happen as Samsung is a dominant player in the Android space.
But the real treat is in watching videos – while you may not see much of a difference when watching widescreen videos (16:9), it’s fantastic when watching super widescreen movies.
Also, the S8 and S8+ are the first smartphones to receive Mobile HDR (high dynamic range) Premium certification from the UHD Alliance. At this point we are not aware of any app that takes advantage of this but expect your movie watching experience to become even more vivid in the future.
The other change Samsung has made is in removing the physical Home button in favour of a virtual one. You won’t really miss it as the virtual button has haptic feedback, which fools your finger into feeling that it’s pressing a real button.
What’s cool about going virtual is that the buttons can be customised for different apps.
So far we have only seen this happen with the popular Pokémon Go app and a couple of other games, where two more virtual buttons appeared at the bottom of the screen. The first one lets you customise the gaming experience but it’s the second one that’s interesting – a battery saving mode that dims the screen but keeps the game alive.
If you have been playing Pokémon Go then you know that it’s a battery guzzler because the game has to run on the foreground with the screen on if you want it to track your walking. As we only had a few days to test the S8+, we couldn’t quantify the difference though.
Samsung has also improved the Always-On Display (AOD) which displays info such as the clock when the phone is on standby mode. Tapping on the clock now displays other widgets – we like the one that lets you control your music without having to unlock the phone.
Not that unlocking your phone is difficult because...
With the last couple of flagship smartphones, Samsung introduced the fingerprint sensor and iris scanner for unlocking its phones – you’d think it’s done but it is not.
With the S8+ it has introduced facial recognition. It works exactly like you think it would – the front-facing camera starts scanning your face the minute you press the home button so it’s quick to unlock.
It had no trouble most of the time, even when the lighting was bad but there will always be an instance or two when it fails to recognise your face (especially when you are trying to show off the feature to a friend).
Samsung says while it’s convenient it’s not highly secure. For instance, if you have a twin or sibling that looks like you then you are out of luck as the phone may not be able to tell you both apart.
So if security is paramount, use the iris scanner instead which is now much faster.
Or you can use the fingerprint reader but Samsung has pushed it a littler higher in the process of making the phone longer.
You need to stretch your finger a little to reach it which is which is why I stuck to facial recognition as it’s by far the easiest and coolest feature.
This time around it’s the front camera that has seen the biggest improvement. It has been upgraded from 5-megapixel on the S7 to 8-megapixel but it’s the smart autofocus that we really like.
The camera is quick to focus so the selfies are always sharp and when you include more people it will automatically switch to wide-angle so you don’t have to stick out your arm further.
For the back camera, Samsung has chosen to stick to the 12-megapixel Dual Pixel camera it introduced with the S7 but has given it a software touch up.
New to S8+ is multi-frame image processing which captures three images every time you snap a photo. The camera will then combine them into one sharp, detailed photo. You may think they won’t be a big difference but there is – the S8 captures much more natural looking photos than the S7, which tended to make pictures a tad too bright.
The Galaxy S8+ is the first to get a built-in AI – Bixby – which will allow you to do a lot more with your phone.
However, the company is only launching Bixby’s features in stages so you can’t talk to it yet. So to access Bixby you can use the dedicated button on the left or just flip to the left most Home screen.
Here, all your vital information are collated from your calendar, alarm and other apps so you get to see it all in one place.
You can also access Bixby from the camera so you can use it to identify items in your images. Bixby will show you similar items on the Net or even where you can buy them.
It doesn’t always get it right – like most AI, Bixby is still probably in the learning stage so it can only get better once the smartphone goes on sale.
The Samsung Galaxy S8+ is a stunning smartphone that easily outclasses most flagship models on the market and that’s just in the looks department.
In terms of battery life, the S8+ comes with a 3,500mAh battery which is a tad smaller than the predecessor’s but it didn’t have any problem lasting an entire day even with heavy use.
There’s a lot going for it too under the hood too, as it packs a 10nm energy-efficient processor – claimed to be a world’s first for mobile phones – and Bluetooth 5.0 which will allow users to stream music to two headsets simultaneously.
All in all, it’s an Android that takes everything up a notch.
Pros: Supersized screen is great for surfing the Web, social media and reading news; special battery-saving mode for games like Pokemon Go; Bluetooth 5.0; front camera has autofocus; decent battery life.
Cons: Takes a little getting used to.
Android 7 smartphone
Android 7 Nougat
6.2in QHD+ Super Amoled (1,440 x 2,960 pixels)
12-megapixel Dual Pixel rear camera with OIS, 8-megapixel front camera
USB Type-C, Bluetooth 5.0, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Exynos 8895 octa-core (4 x 2.3GHz + 4 x 1.7GHz)
64GB internal memory, 4GB RAM
Bixby AI assistant; Face recognition, iris scanner, fingerprint sensor; heart rate monitor, water and dust resistant (IP68), fast wired/wireless charging
DIMENSIONS (W x D x H):
73.4 x 8.1 x 159.5mm
RM3,699 (inclusive of GST)
Review unit courtesy of Samsung Malaysia Electronics, 1-800-88-9999